Are you terrified at the thought of making a public presentation or being called upon to offer a report in front of your peers? Do you break into a cold sweat every time it is your turn to make an oral presentation at work? Would you rather go to the dentist for a root canal than perform as the featured speaker or workshop facilitator at your next conference or convention?
If so, you are not alone. According to the Book of Lists, the fear of public speaking is number one in the minds of the majority of people when it comes to fear in general. Fear of public speaking even ranks ahead of fear of death and fear of disease! In fact, between 15%-19% of the general population admit that they would rather do just about anything than to stand in front of a crowd. The trouble with this statistic is that, depending upon what you do for a living, suffering from a fear of speaking in public can be a huge handicap. In fact, some people have turned jobs down and students have dropped out of classes because they dreaded making presentations or offering oral reports. If you fall into the ranks of those who would rather submit to a polygraph than speak in public, never fear. Help is here, and you don't have to go into therapy to get it. Toastmasters International is an organization that is devoted to helping members improve upon their communication skills; and they do so in a safe and nurturing environment. In case you are not familiar with Toastmasters International (TI), here are some things you may want to know. TI is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1924 by Ralph C. Smedley at the YMCA in Santa Ana, California. Dr. Smedley started the club for his members because he recognized that the young men were in need of training in speech. Ninety years later, the organization has more than 313,000 members in over 14,650 clubs in 126 countries with an annual membership growth of 7.3% and an increase of 17.2% new clubs. TI recognizes the need for individuals to be able to communicate competently, and it also recognizes that leadership and communication are skills that are developed together. A leader needs to be able to communicate effectively in a variety of situations, and a communicator who can speak well and articulate ideas clearly and succinctly is often sought out to be a leader. Like the proverbial chicken and egg, there is little point in discussing which is more important than the other, or which comes first. Both are necessary. If you happen to be one of the millions of individuals worldwide who dreads the thought of speaking in public, it is a relatively simple thing to find a Toastmasters club near you. You can go to the website (http://toastmasters.org) and use the search feature. It is inexpensive to join TI with dues only $36 for six months. When you join an individual club, you should be assigned a mentor who will be dedicated to helping you understand the educational program. The mission of Toastmasters International is to “empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders." The mission of each club is to “provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth." You might want to check out whether your corporation already sponsors a corporate club. Corporately sponsored Toastmasters Clubs are growing trend. If you work for a company that doesn't yet have a club, however, chances are that there are multiple clubs within an easy driving distance of your home or work. Clubs meet weekly, bi-monthly or monthly depending on the individual club, and clubs can be found that meet every day of the week at different times of day. The choices are there… you just have to decide which club suits your needs. Visit a number of clubs before deciding to join one. That way you get to meet the members, learn something about the club culture and the structure, and as you learn more, you can compare one club to another. You will then be in a better position to pick the club that is most likely to nurture your growth as both a speaker and as a leader. Don't let a fear of speaking keep you to having a shot at your dream job. Many people share your fear but they have overcome it…or at least they are minimizing it with practice. It is possible for you to develop your skills and your confidence level so that the next time your boss calls on you for an impromptu report, you don't have to fight the urge to dive under the table. Instead, you will be able to present yourself and your thoughts confidently with poise and purpose. This post was originally published at an earlier date.